Victorino Takes The Reins of Maui County

To serve the People of Maui County

Alfredo Evangelista | Assistant Editor

Editor’s Note: On January 12, 2019, The Fil-Am Voice was granted the privilege of being the first media outlet to interview Mayor Michael Victorino.

Honorable Maui County Mayor stands proudly by the Maui County Seal.
Photo: Alfredo Evangelista
Michael P. Victorino officially became Mayor of Maui County on January 2, 2019. The former Councilman beat Councilwoman Elle Cochran in the November General Election, after being the top vote getter in the August Primary Election.

The first 100 days
New government executives are often judged on what they accomplish in the first one hundred days of their leadership. Victorino will be no different. He has three goals for his first one hundred days, with the first goal an ambitious one.

Victorino plans “to have a comprehensive plan for housing both affordable and regular. To really have a direction—a path for which this County is gonna follow.” He hopes to “announce the housing plan that I’ve been working on so that people will have an idea of what we’re working on and where we’re gonna go.”

Mayor Michael Victorino gesticulates as he speaks with passion about the Mayoral journey set before him.
Photo: Alfredo Evangelist

Victorino knows there are a lot of issues to tackle in dealing with the housing crisis. For example, where the units will be built. He wants the housing units which will be a combination of affordable rentals and affordable housing to purchase to be “located in areas where people work as much as possible.”

Victorino also is concerned about the high cost of housing. He relays the story of the son of a friend who spends $600 a month to rent half of a living room; divided in half by a curtain that goes across the length of the living room. “When I talk affordable I’m talking if it’s a home, $400,000 or less; if it’s a condominium, three bedroom, $250,000 or less; if it’s a one bedroom, maybe $100,000 and $125,000.” I have benchmarks—where I say this is the max—so that people can afford to buy or rent. $400, $450, $500 rentals would be like a studio, then the one bedroom, two bedroom, three bedroom, and incrementally go up. But three bedroom should be no more than $1200 to $1500 maximum.”
Victorino is also keenly aware that the needs of the millennials are different. “They don’t want that extra space. They don’t want a mortgage. They want mobility. They want housing they can afford to live in.”

Victorino understands that solving the housing crisis will require working closely with the State. “I’m going to work very closely with the State and their housing funds,” he says. He also will work with the national housing program that is willing to help Maui build what is called “attainable housing.” Victorino explains that “Without that basic need of housing, it makes it difficult for a lot of people to work here to live here.” Victorino wants “to make sure that people can live here and thrive… not survive. I need public-private partnerships. All of us coming together. Working for one purpose to take care of our people.”

Victorino’s second goal for his first one hundred days are to ensure the confirmation hearings for his appointees are completed. This is the first year that all directors need to be approved by the Council. “Now obviously that’s a Council issue,” Victorino says, “But I want to be able to assist in every way possible.” In explaining what he hopes the Council would use to evaluate his appointees, Victorino said “I would hope they are looking at three things: Number one. My administration is looking at customer oriented service. That’s what we said and what we continue to say. And all my directors and deputy directors—that has been beaten down into them time in and time out. Because without that—you can be the smartest guy—you can know everything about the job but if you can’t take care of the customer, you accomplish nothing. The next thing that is important is that they look at the overall record and qualifications. Overall, including what the Council has put in. That’s important. Thirdly, let the past go. Don’t say ‘Under Arakawa they did this.’ Because that was a different administration. That was a different Mayor. That Mayor may have different takes on what he wanted done. I have my thing, my requests, my requirements.” Victorino stresses how he has implored his appointees to perform: “I’ve said that in the meetings. You will either do this and do it right for our people or you won’t last with me. And I’ve said that to their faces.”

Victorino’s third goal for his first one hundred days concerns the budget. His budget is due on March 25 and will be reviewed by the Council and finalized in late May/early June.

Relationship with the Council
Victorino describes his relationship with Council Chair Kelly King and the rest of the Council as “Good. I believe it’s very good. It’s not a 6-3 or 5-4 Council. It is ten of us working for the people of Maui County. It’s going to be collaboration. Working together. Working for the betterment for the people of Maui County. Many of us will put our pride aside and look to work together for the people of Maui County.”

Victorino believes the Council’s priorities “follow very closely to what my priorities are: housing, infrastructure, economic development, protecting our resources.” He believes he can work with the Council: “As long as we’re getting the job done for the people. It’s the results that count.”

Taxes and Fees
Victorino does not expect to raise taxes or fees. “I’m going to try my best. Absolutely. I promise that I would look at no tax increases. I don’t know until I see the final tax assessment.”

As far as raising fees, Victorino explains “It will be really dependent on other factors. Sometimes there’s other factors like regulations. The other thing is manpower or people power. Many times people want services but don’t want to pay more.”

Opening the Landfill on Sundays
At his public inauguration ceremony, Victorino announced the landfill will be open on Sundays. When questioned about it, Victorino explained: “We are talking about that right now. It’s not yet a done deal. I am consulting with the unions.” He explained he’s met with the employees at the landfills and wants to address their concerns, especially about overtime. “We will work collaboratively. I made a commitment. I’m going to figure it out.”

Victorino admits his announcement might have been premature. “Unfortunately, I think I made a mistake. I gotta be honest about it. Everybody’s been really cool about it. They said ‘The first one hundred days, Mayor, we let you make a few mistakes but after that watch out.’ It’s not a honeymoon… just a grace period. We will make it happen.”

Victorino espouses a servanthood approach: “We are here to serve,” he says and promises to let the public know as quickly as possible.

Effects of the Government Shutdown
“It’s starting to adversely affect us. It’s more of an indirect manner. There’s certain agencies that we need to report to now.” Victorino stated “Our national park, Haleakalā, has been shut down. The rangers have been volunteering their time to be there. We have volunteers to clean up the restrooms. The Friends of Haleakalā National Park have been helping.”

Victorino sympathizes with those who are working without pay. “Our harbors and airports are being affected. Slowdowns. Many of our TSA guys are frustrated.”
Photo: Alfredo Evangelista

Victorino sympathizes with those who are working without pay. “Our harbors and airports are being affected. Slowdowns. Many of our TSA guys are frustrated. There are more sick calls. We saw that in the paper and it’s happening here too. I’m not blaming anybody. I can’t blame a worker who’s going in day in and day out and not getting paid.”

Victorino is set to go to Washington DC for a Conference of Mayors and hopes to “get a better update with what’s happening with our Congressional leaders.”

Victorino has also been in contact with local tourism officials. “I talked to Lisa Paulson last week. She said they’re beginning to feel pinches with the TSA industry but not much more than that. At this point, it’s more along the lines of status quo,” Victorino explains. “But they’re getting more of a hard time because as sick calls start to come in, it starts to have an adverse affect. Who do you call in next if he’s sick and she’s sick?”

Victorino is also mindful of being out in the Pacific: “Again, we’re an island state. We depend on all these outside factors to bringing in everything. We don’t have trucks, we don’t have buses and we don’t have trains bringing anything in. We need to make sure those essential commodities as well as our economic base which is our visitor industry are as minimally impacted as possible.”

“I’m here for one purpose—serve the people.”
Photo: Alfredo Evangelista

Homeless
“We have many programs that we’ve been working on for many years. This is what I was talking about dealing with the state.” One potential site is the old dormitories at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College. “I’ve met with my housing people. The state has money they are willing to put in. Maybe we tear down and start all over.”

Victorino understands the need to “continue to work with our churches, our nonprofits, people who are directly in that realm and help them help us find other solutions. I think it’s time we address it unilaterally instead of being individuals. State, county, nonprofits. Everybody gotta come together. I think we all need to be on the same page in how we approach this.”

Victorino explains “If we’re the funding mechanism, then let us help fund it. If we are the policy then let’s make the policy. But not try to be funder, policy maker, running the system, building the system. Maybe we trying too many things so maybe the other aspect is we need to start focusing on what we do best and help those to do what they do best do it.”

Victorino is willing to try new things that others have tried. “There’s a lot of models on the mainland that we can look at that have been working well.” He points to the project by Duane Kurisu in Honolulu near the airport viaduct. “Not big houses but accommodating facilities,” Victorino explains. “You have a day care center. You have a sundry store. You have a washerette. All one-stop shop. Everything in one place.” Victorino says that you need to try to make all the necessary accesories and facilities and needs for services in one location—alluding to how the old plantation camps were villages where families had all their needs met, explaining the need “to make all the necessary accessories and facilities and needs for services all in one location. Build a little village there so they don’t have to go anywhere. I think we gotta try. A lot of times people say no to something we haven’t tried yet.”

Victorino understands the need for different solutions: “Tiny houses, tiny villages. Make different groups of housing for different groups of people.” He also understands how tough it is to deal with the “Not in my back yard” mentality. “I think if there’s the toughest part of the equation, that’s it.”

Victorino is very sympathetic to the plight of the homeless. “My response to that has always been is they’re humans just like us. We are one or two paychecks from being the same as they are. I understand that. So why don’t we treat them with compassion? I know some people get upset—‘Oh, they’re lazy, they don’t work.’ There is that group too. There is a group in everything. It’s a complicated situation. There is no one fix for everything. But we gotta keep moving in different facets putting in those pieces of that puzzle until one day we will make a beautiful puzzle. In other words we will get the answer to this. We will figure this out. We can’t give up. We can’t say ‘Ah, we can’t do anything.’”

Victorino pointed to Wailuku town as an example. “Wailuku town is a hotbed of services and facilities for the mentally ill. More than any other place right there. People get upset and they tell me all the time, ‘Mike, that takes away from Wailuku town.’ I say ‘You know I disagree with you.’ I walk in Wailuku town everyday pretty much and it’s a beautiful town. I don’t see many homeless sitting around like I used to because we’ve given them services. We’ve given them a place to stay. We’re helping them. And guess what, if you give them a helping hand, you help them get out of it.”

Victorino has personally been involved in the homeless issue for a long time. “Ka Hale A Ke Ola was built for that purpose,” he explains. “It was a transitional center to take you from poverty and other bad times and help you get into the workforce, get to be a productive citizen. I’ve been on that Board for thirteen years. I’ve seen the good things that they’ve done. Do they win every time? No. But if there’s a hundred cases and I tell you right now, a good sixty percent turns out positive. Sixty percent is better than nothing at all.”

Wailuku Civic Complex
The Wailuku Civic Complex has been in the planning stages for so many years and the most recent version is expected to cost millions of dollars. But Victorino appears to generally support the project.

“I think I like the idea of multi-faceted. I’m not so sure about the meeting rooms. I don’t know if we need all that meeting facility but again I’ll take some time to look at it. Right now I want to get it started. When I started on the Council back in 2007 we already had four or five different plans put together. We decided on a couple of them we were gonna move forward but then we got blocked.”
Victorino explains he sees three advantages to the Complex. “First of all we will upgrade all of our infrastructure—the water, electrical, sewer, in all of that area starting from High Street down along Vineyard across Church across Market and along Main. We’re going to upgrade because it’s all part of the plan. So in other words where we need to upgrade, we’re gonna upgrade cause we’re gonna build. We need it because it meets capacity. That’s the number one advantage. And we’re gonna have to do that. That’s going to be twelve, fifteen, eighteen million dollars to just do that and nothing else. So part of this rehabilitation of all of these infrastructure around Wailuku town. I think that’s important.”

Victorino’s second reason to support the project concerns parking. “Parking is a real problem. It’s always been and it always will be. Until we build enough parking there and that’s the biggest area that we have and I believe we can have 300 to 400 spaces in that area if not more and I think that will be a big plus. I think we have 125, 150 spaces, so we can triple what we have right there.”

Victorino’s third reason to support the project is economic development. “We are going to be the center of government, as well as our judicial system. Our courts are here. A high number of attorneys are around this area. So our government services as well as our legal system is based here. So we need the parking and that will bring more economic development. With parking also we could help ‘Īao Theatre. Right now you have Wai Bar and some of the other small businesses–that are starting to thrive. Imagine if there’s parking. I believe Wailuku right now needs one or two nice facilities for dinner, business dinner, family, whatever.”

Victorino explained how the Civic Complex would provide additional facility space. “Having some more retail space along with what you have there already I think is good. I wouldn’t oppose that and some meeting facility so that the people of Wailuku can have public facilities to rent for functions, for meetings, maybe even for small get togethers. Think about it. Cameron Center is overbooked. You look at the Velma McWayne Center that too is always booked or too big for a lot of functions. If you only have a hundred people and you take the Velma McWayne Center or even Binhi at Ani and put them in there, the place is empty. For four hundred, the place is full. So it depends on the size of your function—so I think having some additional space for that would be really good.”

Waihe‘e Golf Course Improvements
Victorino provided a brief update on the progress of the Waihe‘e Golf course rehabilitation “We’re gonna look at repairing and even expanding the Waihe‘e Golf Course to make it into a multi-faceted use facility almost like another community center but also used for golf and other golf functions. So you’re gonna kill two birds with one stone. The new plans are being drawn up now. They have some preliminary plans.” Victorino explains how the surrounding community has grown. “We have all these new communities out there. They need a community center as well as for the golf events.”

New Lights
In conjunction with the Wailuku Civic Complex, Victorino noted how Wailuku town was dark and shared the plans to include lighting in Maui County. “Another thing we’re working on is LED changing the halogen lights. We’ve already started in Wailuku Heights—it’s done. You can see the difference in Wailuku Heights right down here to Sand Hills you see the difference. It’s brighter. It’s a brighter environment. They feel safer. It’s so much brighter now. That’s another thing we’re going to try to complete by the end of this year—2019—is a complete changeover of the old halogen lights to LEDS’s.”

The changeover to LED lights will be for the whole County of Maui. “We put money four years ago to start this whole process. And finally last year the Council finally approved it. I’m the one who gets blessed. I’m able to implement it.” Victorino notes that it’s much brighter and nicer in Wailuku Heights where the first changeover was conducted. “It may take longer (than 2019) but that’s our goal,” Victorino cautions but explains: “If I no set goals, you know what, nothing will happen. If I don’t get there, sometimes things happen but you will find me always trying to set deadlines/goals or something that is realistic also. I don’t put this pie in the sky I going do it tomorrow. I want to put it where it’s realistic.”

Mahi Pono
The announcement by Mahi Pono in late December that it had purchased approximately 41,000 acres of HC&S for $262 million dollars made the headlines. Subsequent news reports identified former Lt. Governor Shan Tsutsui and Tiare Lawrence, who twice ran against State Representative Kyle Yamashita, as the face of Mahi Pono on Maui.

“Our first meeting was very, very cordial. A lot of information was shared between the two sides. Myself as the County and them as a business,” said Victorino. “But the proof is in the pudding.”

Victorino was quite positive however in Mahi Pono’s plans. “I see many great things that can happen. I really believe that this will be a—if they can follow through—starting from planting to processing and sales in Maui and Hawai‘i. I think we got something there and every step of the way. They want to build a processing plant here. They want to make sure that what they grow they produce here they sell here. Maybe sell to O‘ahu but not outside our state. That may still happen outside of the state but their whole plan is to keep it in the state. So that will create a multiple level of jobs not only farming not only delivery not only processing not only sales, marketing. Everything. We’ll have scientific jobs for people who will be doing quality control. So hopefully we can start getting our young people ready for that because we’ve not had that. HC&S and all the big growers we had here was fresh fruit or fruit—whatever we grew—was shipped off.”

For now, Victorino will remain cautious. “For me, that’s what I’m really gonna judge them on multiple levels. What they’ve said they’re gonna do: how they’re gonna create jobs, mentoring programs, all the things we’ve talked about I’m excited to say ‘It’s good’ but again the proof is in the pudding.”

As far as Mahi Pono’s time frame, Victorino explained: “I have no idea on that one. We really didn’t even discuss the time frame. They’re still in the very early stages of finalizing the purchase—what lands they’re gonna get; what kind of water resources. So I don’t want to comment in that area at this point. It is still too early. And I would give them six months to a year to finalize… at least have a conceptual plan. Because that will morph into other things. And they may change and they may want to do something else or different but it will stay in agriculture. Agriculture for which we can consume right here in our island and in our State.”

Victorino describes his relationship with Tsutsui as “Very good. Shan and I go back when he used to coach Shaney and baseball way back when and I’ve known the parents and Hamais and all those families for thirty–forty years. We have a very good working relationship. But everything is not predicated. It’s helpful when you have a good working relationship but it’s still the proof in the pudding. I want to see results. We can be best of friends but if we don’t get results, our friendship is still there, but I’m going to be on you on the other side because the people are waiting. The people of Maui County are waiting. They didn’t elect me to this seat to twiddle my thumbs. I’m here to get the job done. To work together with the Council. With all the private, public sector, all the non-profits and say ‘Hey, this is not my island, it’s not your island, it’s our island and let’s work together to make it work.’”

Victorino is mindful of the need for Mahi Pono to create jobs, especially jobs for Maui’s youth. “My parents didn’t want me to work in the sugar cane fields. They know how hard it was. They know how inconsistent it was. So they gave us a better quality of life like their parents gave to them ‘cause their parents sacrificed by coming from their countries here—an unknown place called Hawai‘i and build their family there.”

Victorino recalled how the sugar industry in its hey day had almost sixteen thousand workers thorughout the County, which had a population of forty-five thousand. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that ratio to population,” said Victorino. “I don’t think so. But if we get 1500, eleven, twelve, fifteen hundred, let’s use that number–fifteen hundred as the high end and eleven hundred as the low end; that’s a lot of jobs for a lot of people.”

How the Victorino administration will differ from other administrations
Political pundits like to make comparisons. “Every Mayor and every administration had their benchmarks and some of the great things that they brought to this County through the years that they were in power,” said Victorino. “So I don’t talk bad about anybody else. You’ll never get me to say anything bad. I’ll say two things I’m really working hard to enhance. One: customer service. To make sure that when people come to County government they walk away feeling like they got served. That we did everything possible to help ‘em. Will I solve every body’s problem? No. Do I get every solution completed? No. And some take time. The people of Maui County deserve that. The people that are working within the County—the County employees—that’s all that I’m asking of them. Do your job and do the best you can for the people, for our constituents, our clients.”

Victorino understands his second goal will take time. “When we finally cross the threshold on this housing crisis and we really start to see the light at the end of the tunnel that there are units available for people to rent or own whether it’s lease to own, rent to own or whatever forms you put out there and help them to be able to thrive… not just survive but thrive—be able to enjoy their family not work seven days a week, working two jobs every day. I did that. I worked three jobs for nearly twenty five years. I’m not complaining. It is what it is. We chose certain things; wanted certain things for our children: Catholic education. That cost money. College. That cost money. We decided that was important to us. And we worked for it. Yet my children were never neglected. The children never roamed the streets doing nothing. My children had us there whenever they had a function: Boy Scouts, band, whatever, we were there to participate. Sometimes three or four hours sleep is all we got. But that’s okay. Sometimes I pay for it today. You as a parent have to be willing to make some sacrifices but we as government must try to make your life as—give you the best quality of life possible. That’s our responsibility. Not only having parks available and clean beaches and oceans and recreation and all that but government services that meet the needs of our people. And that’s another thing that we gotta start looking how we provide government services. I don’t know what changes need to be made but we’re gonna have to. We can’t keep up with these antiquated systems that takes forever to get something done. I’m referring to some of the paper work and the different steps that have to be taken whether it is permitting; whether it is getting the usage of one of our community centers. We’ve got to make it as convenient as simple but as thorough as possible.”

Filipino members of Victorino’s cabinet
“I went out and I asked for people to sign up. I can tell you right now and I cannot mention names but there were four or five Filipinos who I asked specifically I wanted to work in my administration. And their response to me any other year or any other circumstance I would love to,” explained Victorino.

Victorino was proud to point to four Filipinos in his cabinet: May Anne Asuncion Alibin (Deputy Director of Finance), Rowena Dagdag-Andaya (Deputy Director of Public Works), Robert Rivera (First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney), and Michelle Yamashita (Deputy Director of Budget).

Victorino explained how a seven-member blue ribbon committee did the initial screening and recommendations and that “ethnicity, gender, religion, and other areas were not considerations when I looked for directors.” Victorino further explained that a lot of his choices were based on three things that came up during the discussion of a County manager. “One of the biggest things that came up in that conversation during that discussion of having a County manager was consistency and concurrency. Consistency that every time a new Mayor came in, you sweep everybody out and you bring everybody new.” Victorino explained why he kept certain directors from the Arakawa administration: “I felt that some of these people were doing a great job and that I wanted to continue keeping them on. I brought in new directors so it wasn’t all keeping everybody. Probably six return and five new.”

Victorino further explained the choices he made: “You know I was trying to do the best job, to get the best people, into these various positions. And not to say Filipinos are not as good as anybody else. In fact some of them are outstanding citizens. And there will be more places in my administration as time goes on. I can see them coming in. So, forgive me at this point. I’m gonna have to let the process go through. The guys who are directors—let the Council have their shot at them. If for any reason the Council says no to somebody and there is a very valid and competent Filipino for a position that has been turned down by the Council, you damn better believe that I’m gonna consider that.”

Victorino explained his long relationship with the Filipino community. “The Filipinos have been close to me and my wife for many years. We’ve worked hard with the Filipino community for many years. Not for any purpose other than always helping them out. That was long before I ran for Council. That was long before she had me run for Council. Her thirty two years at the ILWU has been what—the vast majority has been Filipinos. And she’s always taken good care of them. I know the value of Filipinos. They’re resourceful, intelligent, hard-working group of people but again at this time it just didn’t… never come up… none of them came up. I apologize for that. And if people get mad, I guess I will always make somebody mad no matter what I do but I’m going to be honest with you I will never lose faith with them and I will always be right there for them.”

Support for Filipino community activities
As Mayor, Victorino promises to continue to support the various programs and needs of Maui’s Filipino community. “I will be putting money in to do repairs for the Bahay Kubo. That’s something I’ve already committed to and I will put money to that because that is an integral part of our community and I’m really sorry that it got into such disrepair. I will put some County money towards that. I’m gonna put some more. In this budget I will put some money aside to help with the renovation and continued maintenance.”

Victorino also promises to continue the tradition started by Mayor Charmaine Tavares and continued by Mayor Alan Arakawa of raising the Philippine flag during the whole month of October to celebrate Filipino-American History Month.

“I plan to support [the various Filipino events] in every way possible. I’ve always been a donator, I’ve always been there. You see me in almost all of these events. And not only political years but non-political years. I enjoy it. I think the Filipino culture like many of our other cultures have made a great impact on my life. My grand children are Filipino—Michael’s two children Kelsey and Aaron are of Filipino ancestry—so I have Filipino in my family. I have Hawaiian. I have Japanese. I get everything in my family so everyone is important. But the Filipino community—being the largest at 27% of ethnic Filipino ancestry. But more importantly, they’ve been an important part of our history in all aspects through the labor movement now into modernization; they’ve been in management; they’ve been in government. I respect the Filipino culture and Filipino community. I always enjoy working for them and working with them.”
The new Mayor concluded “I’m here for one purpose—serve the people.”

Alfredo G. Evangelista is a graduate of Maui High School, the University of Southern California, and the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. He is a sole practitioner at Law Offices of Alfredo Evangelista, A Limited Liability Law Company, concentrating in estate planning, business start-up and consultation, non-profit corporations, and litigation. He has been practicing law for 35 years (since 1983) and returned home in 2010 to be with his family and to marry his high school sweetheart, the former Basilia Idica.